Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington is looking for a football miracle in Prague next month to keep his side's FIFA World Cup™ hopes alive.
However, he knows that even a victory against the Czech Republic might not be enough to secure a place in the play-offs. A 2-0 defeat by Group 3 leaders Slovakia at Windsor Park was bad enough but Slovenia's victory against Poland only increased the agony.
Northern Ireland now find themselves in third place on goal difference instead of going top of the group. Worthington admitted: "Slovenia have had a tremendous result against Poland and got the victory.
"We know the Czech Republic won't be an easy place to go and we will be playing for all three points. Our big opportunity was against Slovakia and and we have not done it. I am gutted."
Slovakia made the breakthrough in the 15th minute when Manchester City winger Valdimir Weiss, son of the manager of the same name, skipped past Jonny Evans. He laid the ball into the path of Bochum striker Stanislav Sestak, who made no mistake from close range.
Nice things had been written and nice things said. People start
believing you do not have to work as hard as you need. That is garbage.
Northern Ireland rose from their slumber in the second half and Burnley striker Martin Paterson was twice denied by goalkeeper Jan Mucha. Slovakia, however, extended their lead in the 66th minute with Filip Holosko eluding Aaron Hughes, knocking the ball past Maik Taylor two minutes after stepping off the bench.
Northern Ireland almost pulled a goal back through substitute Niall McGinn, only for his effort to clip the angle of post and bar. Worthington was furious at the way his men had performed, especially as they had drawn in Poland at the weekend.
He said: "Nice things had been written and nice things said. People start believing you do not have to work as hard as you need. That is garbage. We got our rewards - nothing. It is a mental thing when things are said by a lot of people and it is in their faces all the time they take it on board.
"You try and get their feet on the ground to make sure things are right. We never started while they were bright and breezy. If we had played for 90 minutes instead of 45 we would have taken something from the game. You are not going to win an international match with a 45-minute performance."
Without the aerial threat of the injured Kyle Lafferty, Northern Ireland were short of options up front. But Worthington was in no mood to make excuses. He added: "We haven't got Lafferty, this, that and the other but you have still got to go out and perform.
"It was a disappointment the way we played because we had worked so hard to get to where we were. I said it yesterday we were so close yet so far. We are now far way through an inept performance."